IL-14: Lauren Underwood’s extraordinary primary and plans for victory

HEATHER ATWOOD: Welcome to Illinois's 14th Congressional District.

LAUREN UNDERWOOD: Turnout in Democratic primaries traditionally, particularly in a midterm year, is low. Eight thousand people in a district of 720,000.

HEATHER: That's Lauren Underwood, a former nurse. She recently won the Democratic Primary in Illinois-14.

UNDERWOOD: So we knew that because of, you know, the resistance activities, this anti-Trump sentiment and motivation and enthusiasm among Democrats that that turnout would be higher. We were projecting 30,000, maybe 35,000 voters. But, like, really every projection, we were around 30,000. So when we were planning to do our mail and our paid communications, our digital ads, we were targeting those 23,000 households, the 29,000 individuals. That was our universe. On Election Day, I was driving to our event on election night and the first set of returns came in, three percent of precincts reporting. And with 3 percent of precincts reporting it was something like 5,000 votes. And I was like, "what is happening?" I was in the car and I had gotten like 55 percent of these 5,000 votes. And I was like, uh oh, did we really miss something? because, turns out, 48,000 people voted.

HEATHER: If you don't think there's something brewing in this country, think about what Underwood just said. Usually 8,000 Democrats turnout for a midterm primary in Illinois' 14th Congressional District. In this Democratic midterm primary, 48,000 people came out to vote. Again, that's just the primary. [MidPod theme music]

This is the MidPod. I'm Heather Atwood.

NICIE PANETTA: And I'm Nicie Panetta.

HEATHER: We are two progressive moms traveling America to chronicle what may be the most important set of elections in our lifetime. In this episode we'll introduce you to candidate Lauren Underwood and tell you about her stunning primary win. It's actually even more remarkable than you think. And of course you'll meet Illinois' 14th Congressional District, healthcare workers, farmers, and some voices from our potluck.

NICIE: Chapter 1. Lauren Underwood. The 14th District is a band of counties west of Chicago extending up to the Wisconsin border. Christian conservative Republican Randy Hultgren is the incumbent. He's represented the district since 2011 and he's running for re-election this year. It's a Republican district but Trump won it in 2016 with just a three point margin. In this year's Democratic primary, there were seven candidates. Each was considered a solid choice. Six men, including a local mayor and one African-American woman, Lauren Underwood, the only woman, the only person of color, and the youngest, Underwood won the primary with 57 percent of the vote. Underwood grew up here in Illinois' 14th. She moved back home to Naperville in 2017. And here's how she describes the district.

UNDERWOOD: It looks like an average suburb. But then, you know, you drive two minutes away and you're in the middle of some cornfields. So our main crops here are corn and soy and there are a lot of fields, a lot of barns. And so, those are just interspersed in the suburban landscape. This is an middle class and upper middle class community. The average income here is $105,000 for a family of average household income. So a sizable number of stay at home moms. So people are resourced, by and large, college-educated in terms of demographics. It's 85 percent white, 2.9 percent black, and the rest is split between Asian and Latino and Asian & South Asian. So Indian and Pakistani. And you know, it's been it's been so fun! Welcome to the 14th District! [laughs]

NICIE: In third grade, Underwood was diagnosed with an unusually fast heart rhythm. It's manageable but it's a lifelong condition. This diagnosis has had a lot to do with who she would become. First, it introduced Underwood very early to the world of health care providers. Later, it would be the match that ignited her decision to run for office. After getting a degree in nursing from the University of Michigan, she earned joint master's degrees in nursing and public health from Johns Hopkins. When the ACA, or Affordable Care Act, passed, Underwood's first government job was working on it.

UNDERWOOD: I worked on private insurance reforms, so things like making sure insurance companies use their premium dollar on medical costs and not CEO bonus payments, those provisions that allow children under age 26 to remain on their parents' health insurance. Did health care quality in the Medicare program. So under the Affordable Care Act there are many new initiatives to make sure that the government was only paying for high quality health care and then preventive services, so: the free screenings immunizations, contraceptive coverage that came with the Affordable Care Act. I was also responsible for an agency called AHRQ, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, which tracks health care quality in United States. It was great. It was my dream job. I was 23, I have this office that overlooked the capital, I mean, they gave me an office and I was like, "OK we need this regulation out in 30 minutes. What are you guys doing. Let's go."

NICIE: Later, Underwood was appointed by President Obama to serve as a senior adviser to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. She worked on Ebola, Zika, the Flint water crisis, along with disaster responses to wildfires, hurricanes, and bioterror threats. And yet, Underwood speaks of the Affordable Care Act like an unfinished masterwork.

UNDERWOOD: And so, as a young professional, really had this front row seat on implementing a policy that gave health insurance to 23 million Americans. I remember the day that the Supreme Court upheld the ACA and we had like a dance party in my office. I emailed my friends and I was like, "come on in!" and we were just so excited because we had, like, given years to this effort, right? And so, I believe in the law and know that what we did helped so many people. Now, is it perfect? No. Well we fix it? Yes.

NICIE: So as we said, with the end of the Obama administration, Underwood moved home in 2017. This meant Randy Hultgren would be her Congressman. Underwood knew that Holtgren had voted over and over to repeal the ACA but she wasn't prepared for what he did on April 18th of that year. That was the night of Holtgren's one and only town hall meeting in years. No one was allowed to speak except Hultgren. He received only one moment of applause the entire meeting, when he promised to support a version of Obamacare repeal that would allow people with preexisting conditions to keep their health care coverage. Here's audio from that town hall meeting.

CONSTITUENT: So I'm going to start on the topic of the Affordable Care Act. Since Speaker Ryan and the White House are still discussing repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act, will you commit to voting no if the bill goes before you which would allow insurance companies to cover pre-existing conditions and implement lifetime caps on policies? Yes or no, and what are some of the things you would want to see in this, if any replacement or improvement of the Affordable Care Act occurs?

HULTGREN: Yes, I would commit to voting no. And I've been very upfront about this, that I believe any type of replacement has to have pre-existing conditions -- that we have to have a plan in place for people who do have those pre-existing conditions, that they get the coverage and care that they need.

NICIE: Here's Underwood.

UNDERWOOD: As I shared with you earlier, I have this heart condition which is considered a preexisting condition and it's well controlled, but it's one of these diagnoses where I wouldn't be able to get coverage under these repeal scenarios, so when he made that promise about not supporting something unless it protected people like me, I believed him because it was personal. Well then, after the event, like a week to ten days, later our Congressman went and voted for the American Health Care Act, which is the version of Repeal that did the opposite and it made it cost-prohibitive for people like me to be able to get coverage. And so I was angry and it wasn't because the vote itself because, like I said, he's voted to repeal the ACA dozens of times along with his whole caucus, right? So that itself wasn't the issue. The issue was, he didn't have the integrity to be honest with us. The one time he showed up in our community; we literally haven't seen him since. Literally. Like, where's Randy? And the idea that we have thousands of people across our district who have written to him, who have called, who've sent letters, don't hear back. They ask to meet with him. He denies those requests. You know, he has forgotten that he's accountable to us, to the voters, and I believe we deserve better. And so I decided, you know what? It's on. I'm running. And launched the campaign in August of last year, 2017.

NICIE: Underwood shared with us just how nervous she was in the first days of the campaign, particularly about raising money.

UNDERWOOD: So I thought that after you get through that part there are these magical lists that appear. You just get this magical list, you call these people, they just like give you money. And that was not happening for us. And so we're just like steadily spending and spending and spending and then it was like, um, can this really continue on at this rate? I was really worried. And so, I'm a Christian, woman of faith, you know, and I would pray about it, like, "God, please make this enough, somehow. Make it enough - you can do things where, you know, miracles happen." And I'm not going to ask for a full-on miracle because that's kind of selfish in this scenario, right? Because there's real challenges where people need real miracles, but just make this enough so that we can get to the next phase, right? This is over Christmas and people are with their families. There's like no opportunity to raise money over Christmas. We had raised, in that quarter, fifty thousand dollars, which is like in three months, that is not doing well. And I was nervous about it. And then it turns out that we had raised more than all of our opponents with that fifty thousand dollars. We have more cash on hand at that time, right? So, was it good? No, it wasn't good but it was better than everybody else. And so that whole idea of "make it enough" still enabled us to bounce back.

NICIE: Underwood has been endorsed by EMILY's List, an organization supporting pro-choice Democratic women running for office. [Avenger music]

NICIE: And she was featured on the cover of Time magazine as one of the Avengers: women running for Congress for the first time. And the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, or DCCC, has added this race to their Red to Blue program. [Avenger music ends]

HEATHER: Chapter 2. The Race. The Democratic-controlled Illinois state legislature gerrymandered the 14th in 2010. Yup. Dems do it too. And they did it to favor Republicans, basically tossing the district away as they created new Democratic ones. We visited Congressman Hultgren's office in Campton Hills, Illinois to see if we could speak to someone there. Here's what happened on our visit.

NICIE: Hi there, we're here from the midterms podcast. We have called --

FRONT DESK: For the what?

NICIE: For the midterms podcast. It's a citizens podcast about the 2018 congressional midterm elections and my colleague had called Congressman Hultgren's office earlier in the week and we're hoping to see if we could touch base?

FRONT DESK: Um, did you have an appointment?

HEATHER: No, I left messages. I left messages with this office and also in DC.

FRONT DESK: Yeah, OK. I'm the only one here, I'm sorry. Could you come back another time?

NICIE: Sure, could we leave a card?

FRONT DESK: Yeah, yeah, yeah, absolutely.

NICIE: That would be great. And is there anybody here in the district that does Comms, specifically?


NICIE: Communications, dealing with the press.

FRONT DESK: Usually that's all done out in D.C.

NICIE: I see.

FRONT DESK: We really don't have anybody there.

HEATHER: We called and wrote Hultgren's Washington office but heard nothing back. So we called Jim Fuller, senior writer for the Illinois newspaper Daily Herald. Fuller's been covering the district since before Hultgren's election in 2011. Hultgren is from Wheaton, Illinois, where his family owns a funeral home. Fuller says Hultgren is a pro-life, family values kind of guy.

FULLER: You know, folks know Wheaton, Illinois at all, it's probably because it's the home of Wheaton College. That's where the Reverend Billy Graham went to school. I think it still has something like more churches per capita than just about any other place, for sure in the state and probably in most of the country, so you know, he comes from a conservative community, a conservative background, and his voting record has reflected that.

HEATHER: On climate change, Hultgren admits it's happening but credits the sun. The NRA gives him a 93 percent rating and Hultgren votes almost 100 percent in line with President Trump. Fuller says while Hultgren has barely had to campaign in the past, this re-election might be different. His support for the GOP tax bill will plague him. That bill eliminated state and local tax deductions including property taxes over ten thousand dollars. A 2015 study by The Tax Foundation showed Illinois has the second highest property taxes in the country and two of the very highest tax counties in Illinois are in the 14th district. So that property tax deduction was very important to many constituents here. And then, Fuller reminds us that Underwood's primary win was already making this a very exciting race.

FULLER: So we ended up with seven candidates in the primary. But by the time election night came around and the first returns rolled in, Lauren Underwood, she steamrolled the field. It wasn't close. From the very first returns you know, she clearly touched a nerve with voters and she did a great job, apparently, of gathering the support from what was sort of a pre-existing grassroots effort that had emerged to challenge Randy Hultgren in this race. I can already tell as somebody who's covered the district for the last four or five cycles, this is going to be a different type of contest, for sure.

HEATHER: Here's an interesting detail about Hultgren. He has fully stood behind a Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei and that artist's efforts to highlight the world's growing refugee crisis. Ultimately, Fuller believes there is one issue that will drive this race, one which will give Lauren Underwood an edge. The issue that's really come up over and over again, not just this cycle but last cycle and probably even the cycle before that, really is health care. You know, with Lauren's background in public health I think people see her as an expert on that issue. And so if anybody's going to maybe deliver change that they haven't seen yet, they may see Lauren as that candidate. [music]

NICIE: Chapter 3. Health Care. Barb Sutton is a palliative care nurse. She makes house calls to people with advanced illness: cancer, kidney disease, heart failure. We met Sutton in a busy Panera, where she shared what she's been seeing.

BARB SUTTON: I'll focus on the caregiving issue because I am in people's homes and the fact that people make a huge financial sacrifice to care for a family member: ex-husbands taking care of their ex-wives, elderly wives taking care of their equally elderly husbands, children quitting jobs to come and stay with mom or bring them in. That's a huge problem financially. For many of the younger people, they're giving up a job, you know, they're retiring early and having to take a lesser pension if they get one at all.

NICIE: Medicaid is the single largest payer for nursing home care in this country. As Congress threatens to make cuts to Medicaid, what Sutton sees - the stress on families caring for aging and ill loved ones - will just get worse. The Family Health Partnership Clinic in Crystal Lake has been serving the uninsured in the 14th and beyond for 21 years. Here's Suzanne Hoban. She's the founder and Executive Director.

SUZANNE HOBAN: Our mission is to provide health care for people without health insurance. It is on a sliding scale; it's not a free clinic. Again, this is part of the "pull yourself up by the bootstraps" mentality but charges are on a sliding fee scale so people pay what they can and if they can't pay they don't pay. We don't send them to collections, we don't send bills to them. Interestingly, probably about 90 percent of our patients pay something. That may be ten dollars that may be fifteen dollars but it's a sense of pride and a sense that they have skin in the game and I think that that's really an important piece. But the other reality is, is that people will be more compliant if their health care is more available to them and it will cost them fifteen dollars versus 350 dollars, which is, you know, 3-4 weeks worth of food putting on the table.

NICIE: The Family Health Partnership Clinic is comprehensive. It has everything from dental care to mental health services to a small food pantry. Doctors all volunteer. Staff and operating costs are paid for with private grants, foundations, and community fundraising. They have a very popular 5K road race every year. We asked Hoban what she would like to see from Congress on health care policy.

HOBAN: If I had something to say to Congress I would say, stop trying to dismantle it and work to fix it to actually make it work. It would make all of our lives so much easier if we had a system that worked. I think it's really important for Medicaid to stay very strong. There will always be a component in our communities who are not able to work, who are working many part-time jobs and still not able to get out of poverty. We need to have that safety net. As successful and wonderful and life-affirming as our clinic is, based know a volunteer workforce for many of them, based on community generosity and support, this is not the ideal model to deliver health care. We're here because we need to be here not because this is somehow the best way to provide health care. Health care is a right and people should be able to access it without having a lot of problems and hoops to jump through.

NICIE: Before we left, Hoban told us an amazing story. A number of years ago, one of the clinic's nurses was delivering medication to a home in a rural part of the district.

HOBAN: When they went into the patient's home they saw kind of this lump on the couch covered in a blanket. And to her sort of shock and horror she realized it was a child and it was a 4-year-old child who had cerebral palsy. The parents had never really sought out any services because in Mexico there weren't really any services for this child. The child was loved, you know, clean and obviously a wonderful part of this family who loved her dearly but she was completely in a fetal position at age 4. She was severely underweight. Our nurse took one look at her and we got her into services so that she would regain a little bit more use of her muscles. She'd learn to speak. She would learn to do things a little bit more independently and give her a better quality of life because she's an intelligent girl. Since that time, interestingly we mainstreamed her enough to the point where we hadn't seen her in probably 15 years, 10 years, maybe. I got a call last year and I'm going to start crying because of this. I got a call last year from our front office who said that she was here to see us. And they walked out and she walked to me and she handed me her diploma from our local community college and she said, "we never could have done this without you." And so she became one of our volunteer interpreters at one of our other sites. It was amazing. That's what keeps me going.

NICIE: President Trump and the Republican-led Congress are now trying to dismantle the Affordable Care Act since they've been unable to repeal it. They eliminated its individual mandate in the 2018 tax bill. That means starting in 2019, there will be no penalty if you don't have health insurance. It also means there's less incentive for healthy people to enroll. High enrollment, particularly of healthy young people, is critical to the ACA's success because that's what keeps it funded. More importantly, the President stopped federal payments to insurers; payments that helped those insurers stay in the marketplaces. It was understood when the ACA was created insurers would need help. If for example, suddenly hundreds of cancer patients covered by the ACA started using one insurer, that insurer would become overburdened. To help in these situations the ACA included money. Money that would support these so-called “risk pools.” Trump has refused to fund this part of the ACA, so many insurers have said, "well, we can't afford to stay in this program." Candidate Lauren Underwood believes funding these risk pools is fundamental. It's not a flaw in the system. Simply put, the Affordable Care Act is being starved of resources and Underwood says that could all be remedied with a Democratic majority in Congress.

HEATHER: Chapter 4. The Farmers. As Underwood told us much of the 14th District is soybean and corn fields. Farmers are an important constituency here and they've been dealing with pressing issues recently. Global trade wars and reauthorization of the Farm Bill. Michelle Aavang, her husband and son farm in the district. Their farm is named Willow Lea. Some of the land has been in her husband's family since the 1840s. We spoke to Aavang by phone.

MICHELLE AAVANG: In our county, McHenry County, agriculture is the number one economic industry here and I would say a significant economic contributor to the district and also a significant segment of the population have ag-related jobs within the district.

HEATHER: Illinois exports 60 percent of its soybeans, half to China. In late May, President Trump reiterated his plan to impose 25 percent tariffs on 50 billion dollars worth of Chinese goods. China has announced retaliatory tariffs. Trump had already pulled the US out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership early in his presidency. So those Asian markets have not been available to US farmers. I asked Aavang if because of these trade wars American farmers should pivot to the US market.

AAVANG: We could definitely grow our domestic demand but it still wouldn't have the same impact as trade. You know, about 95 percent of the world's consumers live outside the U.S. Over a 1.4 billion people in China and I should add that there are about 4,000 uses for corn, other than, you know, feed and food for humans, including plastics, fuel, tires, medicine, makeup. So it would have to be more than just eating extra corn. As far as specialty crops in my area, agritourism and direct sales would be viable. You see a lot of corn mazes, pumpkin patches, farm stands, you-pick apple orchards around. It seems like every suburb has a farmer's market now. But we're lucky here that we live close to population centers like Chicago and Rockford but unfortunately the majority of farmers do not. And specialty crops are generally very labor intensive and most farmers don't have the extra labor available to get into these ventures.

HEATHER: Another immediate concern for Illinois farmers is the Farm Bill, which just passed by a two-vote margin in the U.S. House of Representatives at this writing. The farm bill is an 867 billion dollar piece of legislation that must be reauthorized every five years. 17 billion dollars of that bill are federal crop insurance and commodity support programs for farmers. Aavang says the federal crop insurance is critical.

AAVANG: I would say that our number one priority is farm insurance. Crop insurance is very important to us. It's something that we really can't farm without. I don't know too many bankers that would be willing to take the risk if there wasn't some kind of safety net in place.

HEATHER: Aavang says preserving crop insurance isn't a sure thing. There's resistance from some members of Congress on both sides of the aisle.

AAVANG: I think they look at it as kind of, you know, a handout, some kind of entitlement, where in my opinion it really isn't. I mean we still write checks every year, and very large checks for crop insurance, but without the government subsidy it would be unaffordable. Like many people face with flood insurance, you just simply can't afford it if it's not government-subsidized and you know, unlike flood insurance, what we do I think is a matter of national security, having a safe, affordable food supply I think is of paramount importance.

HEATHER: Let's stop for a second and consider something. A portion of this episode is about Americans getting access to health insurance, or not. The attack on the Affordable Care Act, a way for the federal government to guarantee health insurance for a majority of Americans, has become one of the most vicious battles we've seen in American politics. And yet, very few people even know about and few blink an eye at the fact that the federal government has been subsidizing crop insurance for farmers since 1938. We certainly don't mean to suggest taking anything away from farmers' federal assistance. But we wonder how a member of Congress can sign off on that subsidy while fighting the federal government's efforts to support health insurance for Americans. That being said Aavang says she's happy with her representation from Congressman Hultgren.

HEATHER: I'm pretty fortunate to have a good relationship with my Congressman. He's been very open. He returns phone calls, which is amazing, and he does really open himself up to learning more about the industry. He's actually been at our farm on a visit and we've thrown him up in the tractor a couple of times and he seems very willing to learn. At one point he did serve on the agricultural committee which was nice to have him there but he is no longer there. I would say overall, yes I'm very fortunate to have a responsive Congressperson. [music].

HEATHER: Hey Nicie, there's a new podcast.

NICIE: Yeah, Heather! And we're excited because it's about one of the favorite places that we visited during the course of our MidPod journey. And that is the great state of Alabama. You know that we have been talking for some time about how the Southern strategy developed by Republicans in the late 60s after the civil rights movement to gain strength among white voters in the south may be gradually starting to break down. And we saw some evidence of that with Doug Jones victory in the special election in Alabama. But we continue to follow Alabama politics with great interest and we're excited to tell you that there's a new podcast launching next month that takes a deep dive into Alabama's midterm elections. It's called Midterm in AL and it's hosted by two women journalists who've lived in Alabama a long time and are political junkies just like us. You should check it out. You'll find Midterm in AL wherever you get your podcasts. And at and at Midterminal on Facebook and Twitter. You can hear about our visit to Alabama in MidPod episode 5.

HEATHER: Chapter 5. Potluck Lessons. John and Tiffany Spaw hosted our Illinois 14th potluck in Algonquin, Illinois in their company conference room. Our guests were six very active citizens from Indivisible Illinois-14. We had the Spaw's, Dorothea and Bill King, Janice Bruce Hightower, and Tina Wilson. John Spaw created the best homemade macaroni and cheese we've ever had. Boom. Bill King introduced us to a special dish from Indiana, where the Kings lived for many years. It's called, simply, green beans and potatoes. Here, I have to send a shout out to the Mexican restaurant in Carpentersville, Illinois. Las Quecas. They provided some delicious quesadillas for a potluck on house-made tortillas and the service there was really wonderful. People took turns talking about their concerns at the potluck. Here's John Spaw.

JOHN SPAW: We’ve actually lost our freedom now over the past year and a half simply for the fact that we wake up every morning and we have to think about our government. When your government is working right for you, it does become an afterthought. You should be engaged, you should be paying attention and not enough people do. But in truth right now, the biggest oppression that we have on us is that we have to not just pay attention but it's almost like, watch out.

HEATHER: And here's Tiffany Spaw.

TIFFANY SPAW: I think my biggest concern right now with what's going on is the erosion of our norms and the fact that the rule of law doesn't seem to mean anything anymore. I believe in democracy. I believe in everybody voting. It's why I've worked on youth voting with Indivisible-14 the way I have. I believe that everybody should participate in our democracy and we're stronger for it. So I see a problem with our voter turnout but I see a bigger problem with the erosion of our norms because if we don't have that in place we can't change all the bad policy that's being passed right now.

HEATHER: Potluck guest Janice Bruce Hightower recently moved to the district with her partner from New Mexico. In New Mexico, Hightower worked as a civil rights officer for the Department of Public Safety for 40 years.

HIGHTOWER: I live in Yorkville, which is about an hour south of where we are now. I was born and raised in Washington D.C. 68 years old, and so up until I was 15, there were places in our nation's capital where it was legal for them to tell me I couldn't come because I'm black. Interestingly I suppose we were nonetheless middle class, upper middle class. My father started the business in 1946, two years before I was born, that my nephew is running now, a construction business. So we had some advantages that others might not have had. Dinner was at six o'clock. We watched the news. I was very well acquainted with Walter Cronkite and we were very politically involved.

HEATHER: Then, Hightower addressed John Spaw's comment in which he said that for the first time he actually had to pay attention every day to our government.

HIGHTOWER: Some of you have said that you don't every day have to think about what the political situation is. Well, I sorta have. Which may be part of what led me to a career in civil rights.

HEATHER: Hightower repeated something we've heard and thought about as we travel the country. The key to repairing our racial divides is making an effort to connect.

HIGHTOWER: When you see people who are not like yourself, whatever yourself is, if you're gay and they're straight, if they're Hispanic and you're not, or they're black and you're not, or you're white and they're not. And if all you see of any of those people is on TV, you're going to have a problem. And we all do, because I used to think that white women were very silly because they mopped their floors with pearls and - remember the - well, y'all not old enough, some of y'all are old enough to remember the commercials. [laughs] Yeah yeah. You know, and so this is the kind of thing I try to do as much as possible is just meet with and talk with people and have gatherings. That's why I go to the Democratic Women of Kendall County meetings. I think it's important that we all speak for one another. When we're members of a disenfranchised group, we speak up but it's equally, if not more important, for the dominant group to speak to their own members. For Republicans who are converted to speak to other Republicans. For blacks to talk to black folks because we have prejudices too, y'all. Black to talk to other black folks about not being prejudiced against whites, for whites to talk to other white - you know. And that's how we grow and move forward. I do have to think about it every day. [music]

NICIE: Coda. Groceries and Democracy. Our last voice of Illinois-14 is that of Lorraine Bello. She's 85. A retired school bus driver from Schaumburg. I met her outside a supermarket in Carpentersville. She was sitting on her scooter waiting for her ride.

NICIE: What are the voting issues for you, what do you vote based on?

LORRAINE: Helping us get out of the mess we're in.

NICIE: And when you say mess, what does that mean to you?

LORRAINE: Well I hate to say it but they think our President has a lot to do with it. And I feel bad about that because we're not going anywhere, we're not - everybody's afraid of what's happening. I mean, we might have a missile shooting this and everything. I mean, we're scared. I'm 85 years old and I've never felt this way before.


LORRAINE: Whether it be Republican or Democrat I want somebody good in there. I want somebody that worked for us. He says it's us but it seems like everything is for him. He's doing everything his own way. He doesn't want to follow the rules of a Congress, he doesn't want the follow - he wants to make it his way. It's hard because who actually came here to this country? All my - you know long ago parents came from Poland and Austria. People came from all the other countries. That's what made the United States. [music]

HEATHER: In November's midterm elections Americans will decide what kind of health care we deserve. How clean our water and air should be. How we treat mothers and children. The American people will decide what kind of country we are. As we're writing this, President Trump has just referred to immigrants as animals. In May he declared that people crossing the border illegally will be uniformly prosecuted and their children will be taken from them. This race for Congress is happening in a district etched by the Underground Railroad. The Underground Railroad was the largest act of civil disobedience on U.S. soil since the American Revolution. In an upcoming episode we'll discuss exactly why we need to be thinking today about what happened in the Underground Railroad, a time when some Americans had the courage to, as potluck guest Janice Hightower put it, speak for one another.

NICIE: That's it for this edition of The MidPod. Please consider supporting us on Patreon. We have a goal of getting to 50 members by the end of June. And if you head on over to, you can find out about all the benefits of patronage. You can access some of our episodes early and we'll send you some fabulous MidPod swag.

HEATHER: And we're working on more, and more to come.

NICIE: All of the music in this episode is by Cercie Miller and performed by the Cercie Miller Quartet. The MidPod is a production of Bird on the Wing Media. The executive producer is Helen Barrington and the mix engineer is James Donahue. The program is produced at Whiskey Lane Productions in West Roxbury, Massachusetts and recorded at the Podcast Garage in Allston, Massachusetts. Thanks for listening and see you next Tuesday.

Eunice Panetta